Tips for Managing Donations

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A group of volunteers meets in a circle in a disaster distribution site.

A group of volunteers in Central, Louisiana prepares to unload and organize donations. Photo courtesy of

In August 2016, over seven trillion gallons of rain fell over the course of 48-hours in the city of Central, Louisiana, swallowing the city and much of southern Louisiana. Donations started pouring into Central almost immediately after shelters opened, far exceeding the city’s expectations and donation management plan.

Director of Economic Development for the city of Central Amanda Moody was responsible for managing and coordinating the massive amount of donations. Use these tips from Moody to help your locality plan for the unexpected and avoid the “second disaster” that donations can become.

Before a disaster, designate at least one person to manage donations.

  • “You need to have at least one person, maybe even two or three, pre-determined to handle supply receiving, distribution and volunteer recruitment,” Moody says. “Calls will come in almost immediately, and someone has to be there to take them.”

Have a forklift on-hand.

  • During a major disaster, most donations are delivered on pallets in 18-wheeler trucks, requiring a forklift to unload. Find out if your community has a forklift that will be available, or contract with a local vendor to have one brought in.

Have several pre-designated donation storage and distribution sites. 

  • Have multiple facilities identified in case sites are impacted by the disaster or donations overflow a single site.
  • Choose facilities that have forklifts or dollies available, or that can accommodate contracted forklifts and equipment.

Be prepared to turn donations away.

  • Donations can overwhelm localities that don’t have the manpower to handle more donations or a need for what’s being offered. Donors can get angry; be sure to express how grateful and appreciative you are for their offer, but explain your situation and inability to accept more donations.

Limit clothing donations from the outset.

  • “Clothes became the biggest donation, we ended up with mountains of shoes and clothes to get rid of,” Moody says. “Put a message out from the start that says you’re not accepting clothing donations or be prepared to cut-off clothing donations early-on.”

Ask for donations to come in organized on the truck.

  • “When you’re initially speaking with organizations, you’re so grateful that you hate to put any kind of additional burden on them,” says Moody. “It will make a world of difference if you remember to ask them to bring donations in already organized on the truck.”

Have a plan for registering volunteers and tracking volunteer efforts.

  • Create a website or forum where volunteers can sign-up and provide contact information and their availability and skills.
  • Have sign-in sheets pre-developed to use on-site; you will need to track volunteer efforts from the start to be fully reimbursed by FEMA for volunteer work.

Be aware that donation needs transition throughout recovery.

  • “At first, you’ll need essentials like food, water, toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Moody explains. “But as soon as residents can access their homes they will want cleaning supplies, and soon after supplies to rebuild like nails, sheetrock and tools.”

Use social media.

  • Post the details of when and where residents can get donations.
  • Use social media to put out calls for volunteers to help unload, organize and distribute donations.

Partner with local volunteer organizations, don’t just rely on large, national organizations.

  • Local volunteer and faith-based organizations oftentimes can provide more immediate assistance and are also more familiar with your jurisdiction.


See “Experiences Gained: Managing Donations and Volunteers in Central, Louisiana,” to get more advice from Central stakeholders. 

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